A former music journalist (and musician, for that matter), Clea Simon successfully wove that milieu into her 2017 stand-alone crime novel, World Enough, set in Boston’s underground club scene. Now four years later, Simon is releasing Hold Me Down, another stand-alone suspense novel that unfolds against the backdrop of the music industry. With it, she stakes her claim as crime fiction’s foremost purveyor of tales that blend mystery with music.
From the first pages, as readers join Gal on stage performing a tribute concert for her former band member and best friend, this is a character that demands to be invested in. From her vantage point on stage in the smoky venue, Gal believes she spots a familiar face, but before she can reach him, he vanishes. It’s the next day that Gal learns it was indeed her old acquaintance and that unfortunately he was beaten to death outside the club the previous evening.
When her best friend’s widower becomes the prime suspect – and he seems uninterested in defending himself against the charges – Gal recognizes there is more to this story and begins to dig deeper – into her own past and a multitude of memories that might be better served staying in the shadows.
Clea Simon spends a fair amount of time introducing readers to Gal, her bandmates, and other important characters. This is an author who is gifted at managing time shifts without confusing her readers. Because of that, readers learn about the successes Gal’s band have experienced in the past and the twisting journey that led to this tragic tribute performance, all while the present-day incident(s) are investigated. Clea Simon comes from the cozy world of crime fiction – which relies heavily on character loyalty – and she brings that same attitude to this darker novel.
And make no mistake about it, Hold Me Down is a dark and gritty tale. Clea Simon confronts the sexism that exists in the music industry head-on and in doing so illuminates – like a pyrotechnic stage show – how universal this underestimation was and is in the lives of women. But no matter how dismal things get Simon allows her characters to cling to hope and ultimately, she demands that the resilience of the female spirit – and in particular the bonds of female friendship – be understood and respected.
Throughout Hold me Down, Clea Simon demonstrates not just her love of music, but also her admiration for the people who play it and her respect for those who listen. Hold Me Down is a love letter to the music industry that pulls no punches when it reflects on the seedier side of the business, but it is also a celebration of music and the power it commands in calling forth memories – both good and bad. Readers will be forgiven for thinking they could turn on the radio and hear Gal’s songs playing next to today’s hottest hits – that is how vividly Clea Simon brings everything to life.
There is no doubt that readers will hope there is less of a gap between this second “music-industry” mystery and Clea Simon’s next foray into this field she knows so well. Until then, cozy up to the stage and give Gal a listen in Hold Me Down.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.